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An Ever After Diverged

Carlie St. George is a Clarion West graduate whose work has been published in Strange Horizons, Nightmare, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and multiple other anthologies and magazines. When not writing fairy tales or horror stories, she lovingly dissects movies and television on her blog My Geek Blasphemy.

I met you at the edge of the yellow woods, while you were speaking sweetly to the robins and squirrels. You weren't handsome, but your smile was kind, and kindness was a novelty so rarely encountered. My whole life I'd been seen as contagious, a bad luck seer who brought only misery and death, but you thought I was beautiful, a chance for a dream to finally come true. We saw the future in each other; of course, we fell madly in love.
Let me spoil the ending: you're going to try and kill me tonight.
Before that, though, you'll see a mirror.
It belongs to a woman I've never met, though I've seen her face before, just once, in a vision. I don't know how you two are acquainted. Secret lovers, perhaps, but that feels too easy, painting you as the wrong kind of villain. The point is, you're not a villain at all, not yet.
I don't know this woman's name, or why you've followed her home. I only know what you ask of the glass. I only know its answer, and how that answer drives you back to our bed with an axe in hand and a different question on your tongue: Is it true? IS IT TRUE?
I know that when I explain what I did, why I did it, you won't be swayed by my reasons. Justifications, you'll call them, even as you weep. Lies. Excuses. Sins. It's not God I've betrayed but an unspoken covenant, these fundamental truths you've been taught your whole life. Every story promised you a natural order to things--but I was selfish. I didn't play by the rules.
I know, strangely enough, you still love me. I know the last thing you'll whisper before lifting the axe.
That's what mothers are supposed to do, and then--
I know how much of my blood will stain these walls.
Before that, though, two years.
Two lovely, painful, impossibly quick years, where we cooked meals together and laughed at how badly our meals could taste, where we walked and watched stars and talked philosophy. Two years of dancing for no reason, of struggling to pay bills, of kisses and morning breath and laundry, just endless laundry.
And that awful day I told you I went to the doctor, that day I said we can't, that day I said barren--I told you I'd understand if you wanted to leave. And I would have, you know. I never lied, not about that. You so desperately wanted to be a father. I wouldn't have stood in the way.
But you didn't leave. You wept bitter tears, but you stayed at my side, and day by day, we got through it. We were happy, you and I, or as happy as people can reasonably be. I thought, I really thought, I'd finally found my ever after.
Before that, though, the vision.
There I was, knitting at the open window, my thoughts on everything but the needle. The air was cold, but the snow was so lovely. I've always been incurably romantic about snow. I imagined having a daughter to play with, dashing around without a care, while you stayed inside, fondly shaking your head. I remember thinking, I'm ready to try now. I want to meet that little girl--
And then I pricked my finger
and everything
as the daydream shifted to vision, and I watched my blood drop upon the snow, and--enraptured by this contrast of colors--wished aloud for some very silly things: a child with hair as dark as ebony, lips as red as blood. And time
skipped forward
until I was giving birth to a beautiful baby, so sweet, so perfectly alive--but then I was dead, I was nothing, I was a slowly rotting corpse put into the ground, and time
skipped forward
and you remarried a beautiful woman with a mirror, and time
skipped forward
and that woman held someone's lungs and liver, and time
skipped forward
and our daughter was lying in a glass coffin, but a handsome prince shook the death from her lips, and she looked so happy, just like you and me. She was alive, my little girl--
But I wasn't there for any of it, because I was dead and dead and dead.
There's only so much a vision can show you. It didn't tell me whose parts that woman held, or what our daughter died from. It couldn't compare and contrast alternate futures, like the future we're living in now. I thought lying was the kindest option, to spare you the peculiar grief of seers. It's a terrible thing, witnessing your most cherished dreams become your annihilation, to lose someone before they were even there to lose.
I didn't know, not then, that we might settle for very different futures. I didn't know that you thought motherhood began at prophecy.
I didn't know my last words, to you or anyone: I would have died!
I didn't know that you could love me and still find me an acceptable loss.
But there are things you don't know, either, things that contradict what the world has taught you. You don't know a woman can want to be a mother but also something more, that I'd choose my own life, again and again, over a wondrous possibility not yet born. You don't understand that a painful choice can still be an easy one to make. You don't know, not yet, that you've lost the advantage of surprise.
You don't know your justifications are far weaker than mine.
You don't know that I refuse to die so easily: not then, and not now.
Before that, though, a decision, one that was always mine to make:
Time stilled. Time restarted. An ever after diverged, and I--
I took the ending less traveled by.
I caught the blood drops in my palm, closed my fist, and said nothing at all.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

Author Comments

I've always enjoyed the idea of stories told backwards. I wanted to write one where either prophecy or time travel figured heavily into the plot. But I didn't quite have an actual story until one night, I was thinking some about A) the doomed fate of countless fairy tale mothers, and B) how the health of actual expectant mothers is often dismissed in favor of saving the fetus. And then structure and anger collided, and this story is what came out.

- Carlie St. George
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